Friday, November 17, 2006

Either a Personal God or the scientific method?

Deepak Chokra

In the continuing debate between science and religion, Richard Dawkins makes another sweeping claim.

1. God is unnecessary. Science can explain Nature without any help from supernatural causes like God. There is no need for a Creator.

To many people this argument sounds convincing because they believe in science and find God hard to believe in.
But Dawkins has pulled the same trick that he resorts to over and over. This is the us-versus-them trick. Either you think there is a personal God, a superhuman Creator who made the world according to the Book of Genesis, or you are a rational believer in the scientific method.

This assumption is false on several grounds. The most basic one is that God isn't a person. In a certain strain of fundamentalist Christianity God looks and acts human, and creating the world in six days is taken literally (Dawkins refers to such believers as 'clowns,' not worth the bother except to ridicule them). But God isn't a person in any strain of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, the branch of Hinduism known as Vedanta, and many denominations of Christianity--he's not a person in the Gospel of John in the New Testament.

Therefore, reducing God to a Sunday school picture and claiming that the Book of Genesis--or creationism in general--competes with science isn't accurate. Fundamentalism hasn't played a role in scientific debate for generations. Einstein pointed out that he didn't believe in a personal God but was fascinated by how an orderly universe and its physical laws came about.

Nor is it fair to present God as a Creator standing somewhere outside the universe. Dawkins ridicules this notion by saying that such a God didn't need to create the cosmos through the Big Bang and billions of years of evolution. He could have created it whole and perfect to begin with. Thus if we observe evolution at work--as of course we do--then God is irrelevant and unnecessary.

This attempt to second-guess God again reduces him to a person who thinks like a human being and would carry out creation the way a smart scientist would--a Richard Dawkins, for example. God, if he exists, is universal, existing at all times and places, pervading creation both inside the envelope of space-time and outside it. To use a word like "He" has no validity, in fact; we are forced into it by how language works. A better word would be 'the All," which in Sanskrit is Brahman and Allah in Islam. Not every language is stuck with He or She.

So at bottom, the real question is this: Do we need an all-pervading intelligence to explain the universe? Forget the image of God sitting on a throne, forget Genesis, forget the straw man of a Creator who isn't as smart as a smart human being. The real debate is between two world views:

1. The universe is random. It operates entirely through physical laws. There is no evidence of innate intelligence.

2. The universe contains design. Physical laws generate new forms that display intention. Intelligence is all-pervasive.

The second worldview can be called religious, but it's a trap to say that only a Christian God explains intelligence in the universe. There is room for a new paradigm that preserves all the achievements of science--as upheld by the first worldview--while giving the universe meaning and significance. Dawkins shows no interest in uniting these two perspectives (he disdains the whole notion of a religious scientist), but many of is colleagues do.

Before talking about such a synthesis, let's see what responders think. Is God an all or nothing proposition as Dawkins claims? Must science absolutely exclude God in any form?

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